We hear a lot about the United States’ Judeo-Christian heritage, but according to President Obama, “Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding.”
That’s what the president told a White House conference on “countering violent extremism” on Wednesday.
Obama has said similar things in the past:
“I also know that Islam has always been a part of America’s story,” Obama said in a June 2009 speech in Cairo, Egypt. “Islam has always been part of America,” he said in a 2010 statement marking the start of Ramadan. And in a 2014 statement marking Eid, Obama said the holiday “also reminds us of the many achievements and contributions of Muslim Americans to building the very fabric of our nation and strengthening the core of our democracy.”
In his speech on Wednesday, Obama was making the point that Western nations must show that they “welcome people of all faiths,” at a time when “extremists” are saying that Western nations are “hostile to Muslims.”
“Here in America, Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding. Generations — (applause) — Generations of Muslim immigrants came here and went to work as farmers and merchants and factory workers, helped to lay railroads and to build up America.
“The first Islamic center in New York City was founded in the 1890s. America’s first mosque, this was an interesting fact, was in North Dakota.” (It was established in 1929).
Both of those milestones happened well after America’s founding, however. In fact, the new nation’s first dealings with Islam were tense and unpleasant.
According to a Heritage Foundation paper, shortly after America’s founding, the United States “was dragged into the affairs of the Islamic world by an escalating series of unprovoked attacks on Americans by Muslim pirates, the terrorists of the era,” who looted American ships and captured American sailors, holding them for ransom or selling them as slaves.
The paper notes that America’s struggle with Muslim pirates from the Barbary States (modern-day Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya) began soon after the 13 colonies declared their independence from Britain in 1776 and continued for roughly four decades.
In his remarks on Wednesday, President Obama said Muslim Americans now serve as police officers, firefighters, soldiers, “and in our intelligence communities and in homeland security.”
He said Muslim American heroes are buried at Arlington National Cemetery, “having given their lives in defense of all of us.”
“And, of course, that’s the story extremists and terrorists don’t want the world to know — Muslims succeeding and thriving in America. Because when that truth is known, it exposes their propaganda as the lie that it is.
“It’s also a story that every American must never forget, because it reminds us all that hatred and bigotry and prejudice have no place in our country. It is not just counterproductive. It doesn’t just aid terrorists. It’s wrong. It’s contrary to who we are.”
So-called hate crimes against Muslims escalated in this country after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 — attacks perpetrated by Islamic radicals — but they have never reached the level of hate crimes against Jews, according to the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Reporting statistics.
In 2013, for example, 62.4 percent of hate crime victims were attacked because of anti-Jewish bias, while 11.6 percent were victims of anti-Islamic bias.
Compare that with the year before the 2001 terror attacks: In 2000, of the 1,699 victims of anti-religious hate crime, 74.6 percent were victims of an offender’s anti-Jewish bias; and only 2.1 percent were victims of an offender’s anti-Islamic bias.
President Obama on Wednesday stressed that U.S. is not at war with Islam:”We are at war with people who have perverted Islam,” he said.
He also said the West and Islam are not in conflict; and that Islam is not incompatible with modern life, although in the same speech he urged other countries to invest in the education of both males and females — “because countries will not be truly successful if half their populations, if their girls and their women, are denied opportunity.”
In a speech to the same summit on Thursday, Obama noted that many Americans don’t personally know a single Muslim, and they form a distorted impression about Islam by what they hear on the news.